Dear Friends in the SW District –
I hope and pray you all had a blessed Holy Week where you had the opportunity to connect with new people, make new disciples, baptize and receive people into the membership of the United Methodist Church. You are all doing an amazing job in being missionally oriented and keeping focused on the reason why we are United Methodists – to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
As we have reflected on the meaning of Holy Week and the mystery of Incarnation, a particular passage has come to mind during these days of meditation and celebration:
Philippians 2:5-11 (NLT), “You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father”.
The Unchristian Attitude: The world in which we live and try to do the mission of God has increasingly become a hostile world. And some people have engaged in behaviors and habits that are far from the way of living God has modeled to us through the person of Jesus Christ.
Some of their new ‘gods’ are individualism (I am), consumerism (I buy), humanism (Me without God), selfishness (Me first, only me), greed (I want more, I owe more), racism (I’m superior than…, My race against other races), sexism (one gender has supremacy over another) and entitlement (I deserve).
The attitude that was in Christ is very different of the one that prevails today in the world. Jesus was all about humbleness and kindness, serving others and putting them before him, extending grace to all, loving people unconditionally. The Son of God was willing to offer the supreme sacrifice: giving His life in order that others may receive life in His name. This is what we call in Christian theology “the mystery of incarnation”.
God’s incarnation in Christ
Incarnation is the act of sublime love and humility where God takes upon himself to enter into the depths of human life, so reconciliation between God and humanity may happen. God made a sacrificial decision to move into our human neighborhood, an act of radical identification with our humanity:
John 1:14 (MSG) declares, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish”. If we truly want to know what God is like, we need to look at Jesus.
Philippians 2 says that Jesus gave up His divine privileges. We find here a play of words: “cling to / give up”. Jesus had the opportunity to “cling to” his God given position, but instead He gave up his privileges and became a human being.
The history of salvation is the account of the divine attempts to reach out to humanity through prophets, priests and kings but humanity did not take advice from “one of them”. Someone had to be sent from God to deal with humanity. God voluntarily gave up his eternity to be bounded by the finitude of human nature – an act of pure love.
Jesus humbled himself in obedience to God
Since God made the decision to quit his eternity to adopt humanity, He could have sent His Son as a powerful human being – instead, He made Jesus “powerless” according to human standards. The purest image of powerlessness is that of “a child” born in a manger, in a place where He was not welcomed, witnessed by foreigners and dark/unknown humans. Jesus adopted the human nature, but without any privileges – not to receive, but to give; not to be served, but to serve and to offer His life as a ransom for our freedom.
Jesus died a criminal’s death on a cross
Not only did Jesus give up His divine privileges to adopt the vulnerable human nature of a servant. Jesus, God Incarnate had to suffer the supreme experience of human powerlessness and deprivation – death on a cross! He could have died of a heart attack, from bed to death – instead He suffered the death of “cursed” humans, the cruelest, degrading, more painful form of death. He didn’t deserve it at all – but He did it anyway… out of love.
Jesus is elevated to the place of highest honor
Because of His incarnational ministry and suffering a criminal’s death, God exalted Him to the place of highest honor. God gave His Son a name that is above all other names. And now, as incarnational Christians doing the mission of God in the world, we are charged with connecting people to Christ, so “every knee should bow” and “every tongue declare” that Jesus is the Lord, Our Savior, Our Redeemer, Our Hope, Our Justice, Our Liberator, and Our Role Model!
We are the “sent” people
In Christ we have been sent to live out God’s incarnation in our own lives and in all of our relationships. The communication of the Gospel (Evangelism) will not happen unless we “move into the neighborhood” in an act of identification with humanity, like Jesus did. Our Christian love means nothing if it is not “incarnational” – not just a matter of “words”, but loving actions for our neighbors.
What does it mean to fulfill the mission of God incarnationally?
- To practice a ministry of presence: Becoming part of the very fabric of a community to engage in its humanity – evangelism happens through relationships, hanging out with people who are not part of the faith community – God likes you!
- To practice a ministry of proximity: Jesus ate with “tax collectors and other disreputable sinners” – actively and intentionally involved in the lives of those we are seeking to reach,
- To practice a ministry of powerlessness: Gospel-sharing through servanthood and humility in our relationships with each other, and
- To practice a ministry of proclamation: The Gospel invitation (sharing the stories of Jesus) needs to be part of our mission. We are “a message tribe” (the family business).
1 Corinthians 9:19-23 (MSG) says: “Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized—whoever. I didn't take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ—but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I've become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. I did all this because of the Message. I didn't just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it!”.
My exhortation to all of our Pastors and churches in the SW District is to do the mission of God Jesus style – incarnationally. To practice the ministry of presence, proximity, powerlessness and proclamation on our neighborhoods. And Like Paul, to become servants of all, entering into their world in order to lead some of them to the God-saved life.
The mission of God is not complete if we only do presence and proximity and leave aside the Gospel invitation. Our mission field is our community (not just the church) – God is not asking from us something God has not done himself – move into the neighborhood and become the servant of all so he may win some for His Kingdom.
In Christ’s amazing love and grace,
God’s Church is Alive and Well in Cuba
After our mission trip in February, I was convinced that God’s Church is indeed alive and well in Cuba. Our group visited seven churches in the North Holguin District. The story of each church was similar and exciting. When a church was started, the only worshipers were the family members of the pastor, but now several years later close to 100 people are worshiping each Sunday. Not only are the churches flourishing, but they all have missions in the surrounding villages. In addition to missions, there are small cells meeting at homes. Christianity is spreading throughout Cuba. It was extremely exciting to hear about the growth of the church in the communist nation. Many of the pastors left good-paying jobs to take their call. One remembered the first morning in their small shack and wondering if he could succeed. His old boss tempted him with a pay raise if he quit the ministry and returned to his old job. With the strength and dedication granted from God he stayed on his mission and built a new church building for the crowd of worshipers now coming to his church.
Hearing the stories of potential glorious growth in light of the many financial needs made it obvious how we Americans can assist our fellow Christian brothers and sisters in Cuba. They may be poor in material resources, but are so rich in their faith. The pastor of one of my church’s sister churches waved his hand around his worship building and told me it was all made possible by our donations. We started by paying the pastor’s salary of $360 per year and then listened to his needs and wants for the growth of his church. We felt the responsibility to help our Cuban Christians just as those in Greek and Turkish churches helped those in need in Judea nearly two thousand years ago. It is truly a blessing to assist our church family in need. And we all pray for each other. When I told the pastor of our sister church that I prayed for him and his church every day, he thanked me with tears in his eyes and told me how his congregation daily prays for us. Tearfully, I responded that we feel their prayers. The bond is very strong between sister churches.
Most of our team members did not speak Spanish well and we relied on our wonderful interpreters, but we discovered that most of the Cuban Christians knew three English words as they honored us with: “God Bless You.”
Our visit to our Cuban brothers and sisters helped us to realize that the true security is in holding onto God. God gave us everything, and most important, He gave us the salvation we share with our friends in Cuba. In the worst times He gives us strength and His peace. He also gives us American Christians compassion for fellow Christians and opens our hearts to help them.
Dr. Phill Kolbe (Guest Author)
Community Partnership Program from Jason's Deli
Jason's Deli is offering a discounted rate on catering with their Community Partnership Program. The North East District recently used Jason's Deli for the boxed lunches at the District Leadership Event. Here are some other perks:
- Free delivery within 15 miles of the deli. This mile radius may change with our franchise partners.
- Discounted Menu
- Minimum order of $25 for order with in 15 miles.
- Can deliver to groups of 5 or 5000. No order is too big or small!
For more information about their Community Partnership Program, visit their website. You can also download their program and pricing information here.
HAPPENINGS AT CONFERENCE
The Thirteenth Annual Native American Gathering
A time for Native people to collectively seek and pray for healing in our land and our people, and healing between the nations of North, Central and South America.
The mission of CONAM is....
Financial Assistant for Renewal Leave
The Florida Conference Passing the Torch Fund is now accepting applications for grants that provide financial assistance to Florida Conference clergy in full connection who are planning to take renewal leave. Up to $10,000 per grant may be awarded.
The Passing the Torch Fund was launched in 2015 as a cooperative effort between the Florida United Methodist Foundation and the Florida Conference’s Office of Clergy Excellence and Board of Pension and Health Benefits. It provides training, financial assistance and leadership development support for Florida Conference clergy and those preparing for ordained ministry. Funding is provided through 2019.
Applications for the renewal leave grants will be accepted until May 31.
Complete the attached application online. For more information, please contact Holly Finley, Office of Clergy Excellence, at email@example.com or 800-282-8011, ext. 134.
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